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Tobacco Companies Used Psychological Means To Deliberately Target Women

May 31, 2005 | Women's Health News

Health researchers have revealed this week that tobacco companies specifically designed cigarettes to appeal to women's desires to be thin and healthy in ways that went "far beyond marketing and advertising".

Apparently internal documents released by tobacco companies under a 1998 court settlement show the companies created cigarettes, including "slim" and so-called "light" brands, in part to attract women.

Carrie Murray Carpenter of the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study, says the documents reveal that the tobacco industry's targeting of women goes far beyond marketing and advertising, and their study of tobacco company documents show a clear effort to find out what might make women want to smoke. She said at one point the companies considered putting appetite suppressants into cigarettes so they could promote them as weight control products.

Carpenter says it is unfortunate that the industry used these findings to exploit women and not help them. The team said tobacco companies' efforts to attract women included the creation of "slim" cigarettes in the 1970s.

Jack Henningfield of Johns Hopkins University and colleagues comments that the companies manipulated cigarette designs and ingredients in an effort to make cigarettes more palatable to women and to complement advertising allusions of smooth, healthy, weight-controlling, stress-reducing smoke.

The study demonstrates that marketing strategies adopted by the tobacco companies, especially for female brands, have contributed to the association of smoking with appealing attributes including female liberation, glamour, success and thinness.

They also targeted "light" cigarette brands, with their promise of smaller amounts of harmful tar and nicotine, at women torn between the desire to smoke and health worries.

Carpenter's team sifted through more than 7 million internal tobacco industry documents made public through the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between the state attorneys general and major U.S. tobacco manufacturers including Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris USA unit, Reynolds American and British American Tobacco (BAT).

Quoting from one 1982 BAT document the team found that the companies 'safely concluded that the strength of cigarettes that are purchased by women is related to their degree of neuroticism and women buy cigarettes in order to help them cope with neuroticism'.

One 1985 Philip Morris document is quoted as reading that 'Women do not want to stop smoking, yet they are guilt-ridden with concerns for their families if smoking should badly damage their own health, they compromise by smoking low-tar cigarettes'.

Carpenter's team say that understanding what the companies have done, is the key to finding ways to help women quit smoking.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 19 percent of adult women and 24 percent of adult men in the U.S.smoke. Smoking is the single biggest cause of heart disease and cancer.

Spokespeople for Philip Morris and Altria said they had not seen the full reports and could not immediately comment.

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